Cherokee hopes bounty will help rein in pesky coyote population

out frIn Cherokee, a dead coyote is worth more than a live one — about $25 more.

In the coming weeks, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian’s Fisheries and Wildlife Department will begin doling out $25 bounties to enrolled tribal members for each coyote they shoot and kill on tribal land. Cherokee hunters can exchange the coyote carcasses for money but get to keep the pelt if they want. The bodies will be incinerated.

Dog owners stand up for their hunting heritage

fr jacksonhuntersA burley crowd wearing their long lineage of Appalachian ancestry proudly on their sleeves stared down Jackson County commissioners this week, decrying the idea of an ordinance that would muzzle their hunting dogs.

Not-so-strange bedfellows

I was encouraged by a recent press release from the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. The release stated, “In a show of force and unity, over 100 North Carolina sporting groups are calling on the General Assembly to restore critical funding for conservation. The groups, ranging from venerable statewide wildlife, turkey, waterfowl, deer, bear hunting organizations to trout, bass and local rod and gun clubs, are seeking investments in land, water and wildlife infrastructure in what amounts to less than 0.5 % of the entire budget.”

These groups representing Trout Unlimited Chapters, Wild Turkey Federation Chapters, Quality Deer Management Associations, NC Ducks Unlimited plus scores of other sportsman/sportswoman organizations across the state are all signers on a recent letter to North Carolina’s General Assembly. Here are some excerpts from that letter:

“We are hundreds of thousands of dedicated sportsmen and women from North Carolina. We span political parties and ideologies. We are bird hunters and waterfowlers, trout and bass anglers, hunters and trappers. What we share is a deep-rooted passion and concern for conservation and our sporting heritage.”

“The country’s original conservationists, hunters and anglers, are still on the forefront of conservation. Our dollars spent on licenses, gear, and associated expenditures such as travel, bait and tackle, meals, and lodging has a tremendous impact on the state’s economy.  According to the most recent survey of the USFWS about the economic value of fish and wildlife based recreational activities, we contributed $4.3 billion to the state’s economy while supporting over 46,000 jobs.

“For years, the General Assembly has recognized sportsmen’s economic input and commitment to fish and wildlife resources by fully funding the state’s four conservation trust funds. Now conservation funding has been cut by a disproportionate 90 percent. Fiscal responsibility is important, but it doesn’t mean abandoning successful programs that have protected tens of thousands of acres of game lands, wetlands, fishing habitat and farmland across the state.

“In order to effectively safeguard key components of our economy, the sports and traditions that North Carolinians enjoy, and the health and integrity of some of our most important natural resources, it is essential that you restore a portion of these critical funds for the wild places that sustain our sporting heritage and economic impact.

“This request comes to less than a half percent of the state budget, but the payoff is enormous. For every dollar invested the state receives at least $4 of natural goods and services such as drinking water protection, flood control and cleaner air.  When you add in the associated benefits for our $22 billion a year travel and tourism and $32 billion agricultural industries, it is clear that conservation is crucial to our economy. Please support this major economic driver by:

• Restoring funding for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF) to $40 million, still well below historic levels.

• Removing the general prohibition on the use of CWMTF funds for land acquisition.

• Maintaining the dedicated revenue source for the Natural Heritage Trust Fund and Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, and oppose any diversion of those funds.

• Funding the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund at $2 million.”

When traditional environmental groups like Audubon NC, Southern Environmental Law Center, Western North Carolina Alliance, NC Sierra Club and others decried the Republican assault on the environment in North Carolina’s General Assembly and penned a letter to Gov. Bev Perdue thanking her for vetoing S781 and S709 (both of which, I believe, have been overturned), it was easy for Republican lawmakers to rant about “tree huggers” and “environmental whackos.”

But when members of the General Assembly look at this wide ranging and broad base of support, marshaled by the NC Wildlife Federation (who, by the way, was also a co-signer on the letter to Perdue) that crosses all party lines and ideologies, perhaps they will see that all North Carolinians treasure North Carolina’s wild places.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Open season: Crack down on wild boar may meet resistance from hunters

There’s a new call to arms for hunters of wild boar: shoot as many as you can — day or night, anytime of year — and ask questions later.

Wild boar are a reviled scourge on the landscape. Yet until now, hunters couldn’t shoot more than two per person and the hunting season was limited to only six months of the year in the six western counties.

The game laws didn’t make sense given the nearly universal loathing of wild boar, prompting the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to consider a more liberal hunting policy toward the animal.

The open invitation to hunt them in mass quantities is a plea to hunters to help get rid of the destructive beasts that have taken root in the mountains despite not belonging here.

“Ideally, statewide from the mountains to the coast, all feral swine would disappear,” said Evin Stanford, a wild boar expert with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

But the hunting community might not be so eager to see wild boar wiped out.

“I like to hunt them, and I would hate for them to be eradicated,” said Curtis Bradley, a hunter from Canton and member of the WNC Sportsman’s Club.

Many hunters don’t like the idea of an open, year-round season with no bag limits. Bag limits are intended to protect game animals from over hunting, ensuring their viability as a huntable species in the future.

“I think the ones that actually hunt them wouldn’t want the bag limits to go away,” Bradley said.

Hunters are expected to voice their disapproval at a public hearing on the new hunting laws for feral swine being held at 7 p.m. Wednesday (Sept. 14) at Haywood Community College by the N.C. Wildlife Commission.

Ecologists have a different view, however. Feral swine are nature’s version of a bulldozer, devouring everything in their path and leaving a wake of uprooted earth.

The hunting changes will apply in the six western counties. In the rest of the state, hunters can already shoot an unlimited number of wild boar all year. The change will bring the six western counties in line with the long-standing policy toward wild boar everywhere else.

In fact, they aren’t even called wild boar in the rest of the state, but instead are bestowed with the far less romantic name “feral swine.”

“Everything is wide open on feral swine outside those six western counties,” Stanford said. “Our agency for a long time has not seen them as a desirable species on the landscape.”

Saying so publicly is a big step for the Wildlife Commission, however, which until now has been swayed by hunting interests when it comes to wild boar in the mountains.

“In that part of the state it is a traditional big game species that has been hunted for generations,” Stanford said.

The Wildlife Commission had attempted to balance interests of wild boar hunters with the ecological harm wrought by the species. But it now seems poised to buck pressure from the hunting community and shed the special status for wild boar that had persisted in the far western mountains.

“I think that was a fight we thought at one time we could not win,” Stanford said. “It seems the tradition of hunting wild boar has been waning, at least compared to 20, 30, 40 years ago.”

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where hunting isn’t allowed anyway and the ecosystem always comes first, was alone in its admitted mission to eradicate wild boar until recently. The Smokies has made an impressive dent in the wild hog population by trapping. Realistically, they’ll never get rid of them completely, but hope to keep them in check.

“It is definitely a daunting task, given the manpower and the amount of area we have,” said Bill Stiver, wildlife biologist in the national park. But, “We have kept the pressure on.”

Until recently, however, the Smokies begrudgingly turned over some of the boar it trapped to the U.S. Forest Service, which in turn set them free in the Nantahala National Forest. The Smokies’ more rugged stock of wild boar is particularly desired by the hunting community, which pressured the forest service to save the wild boar from the Smokies’ traps and release them in the forest. The practice wasn’t ended until 2005.

 

Rogue introductions

Fringe elements in the hunting community have been doing their part to keep the species alive and well in the state, albeit illegally. Rogue hunters are suspected of releasing hogs and pigs into the forests to boost the feral swine population and counter efforts to eradicate them.

While no one has been caught in the act, Stiver has encountered feral swine in the wild with pale skin, curly tails, smooth skin, even spots — signs of domestic pigs rather than the course-haired, tusked feral cousins.

“Historically wild boar in the park were traditionally black. They had that Russian look. But in recent years we’ve seen hogs with much shorter snouts, with much shorter legs, animals that appear to be semi-domesticated,” Stiver said. “They just stand there. They had no fear of people as if they had been in a pen and then been let loose.”

That, more so than pigs accidentally escaping from farmers, is how the population of feral swine has spread across the state.

“In most instances the population is established by individuals intentionally releasing feral swine with the intention of establishing a population that could be hunted,” Stanford said.

It has been illegal to release swine into the wild for several years, but it technically wasn’t illegal to move them.

“Individuals could trap swine and move them up and down the roadways and there was no violation involved,” Stanford said.

That loophole was closed with a new state law this year, banning the transport of live hogs without identification approved by the state veterinarian, so now only hog farmers can legally transport their livestock.

The law also prohibits the removal of live feral hogs from traps. Anyone trapping a feral hog has to kill it inside the trap before opening the door — removing any doubt over whether “relocating” feral swine versus “releasing” them is legal or not. It also gives wildlife officers more ammunition to crack down on rogue introductions.

Oddly, an open season on feral swine — allowing hunters to shoot as many as they want year-round — can backfire. Those who like hunting feral swine are tempted to set out new animals to keep the population viable and huntable.

 

Some states are trying a novel solution

In Tennessee, hunting wild boar was outlawed this year for most parts of the state.

“The strategy we are going after is pretty radical, but a very aggressive approach at eradicating hogs across the state,” said Grey Anderson, a wildlife biologist with the Tennessee Wildlife Commission. “It is a little against the grain. The traditional method is to liberalize your season, and then you get more hunters and it reduces the population.”

But Tennessee found that quite the opposite played out on the ground. After changing its wild hog hunting rules in 1999 — lifting the bag limits and allowing year-round hunting — the population actually increased. The reason is no surprise: hunters launched rogue campaign of illegally releasing hogs in the wild, resulting in more feral swine instead of less, Anderson said.

“It was counter productive to what we were trying to do,” Anderson said.

Kansas was the first to try the alternative strategy, and Tennessee decided it was worth a try. Hunters aren’t too pleased, however.

“We are getting a ton of pushback now,” Anderson said.

Now that hunting wild hogs is illegal, the Tennessee Wildlife Commission has started trapping and killing them itself. Without hunters propagating the species, however, Anderson believes the agency will be able to make a dent in the population.

There is one exception to Tennessee’s new policy. In the mountains of East Tennessee around the Smokies, wild boar hunting is still allowed under some circumstances. If hunters are hunting bear or deer and come across wild hogs, they are allowed to shoot them.

“If your bear dogs get on a hog trail you can take them,” Anderson said.

The reason is a familiar one: a storied tradition of wild boar hunting in the mountains.

“They have been hunting wild hogs in that part of the world that we know of since the early 1900s. There is a very strong tradition of hunting,”Anderson said, Agricultural interests are backing North Carolina’s crack down on feral swine. Feral swine carry lethal diseases, including several documented cases of pseudrabies.

“They are tremendous risk to our domestic livestock and swine industry,” Stanford said.

 

Going native

Most of the feral swine in the state are descendants of domestic hogs turned out by early settlers to graze on the open range, or in more recent decades, animals that have been purposely released. After a few generations in the wild, they start to sport hair and tusks.

“In as soon as three generations they can start to develop some of the feral traits,” Stanford said. “They start to revert relatively quickly.”

Wild boar lineage is unique in the far western mountains, however. Here, their ancestry can be traced back to the true European wild boar.

A stock of European wild boar was imported by a hunting preserve in 1912 in the Hooper’s Bald area of the Smokies. In 1920, they all escaped, with estimates ranging from 60 to 100 of the beasts.

This genetic line still lingers in mountain wild boar, but has been dramatically watered down by domestic swine injected into the population.

Feral swine are unfortunate proliferators. Mothers have five to six young a year on average, and in a bumper year for acorns or other food mainstays, they can have two litters a year. They are fertile at just a year old.

The young pigs stick close to their giant mothers, and probably have pretty low mortality from predators such as coyotes or bobcat, Stanford said. As adults, humans are their only enemy.

Bradley, who has hunted wild boar on game lands in Swain and Jackson counties, said it is a challenge to hunt them, mostly because you can’t find them. They don’t frequent the same place day after day. They come through, eat, then move on.

“You can go out there for an entire season and never see a single one. You will see the remnants of them, where they have torn the woods up,” Bradley said. But, “It may be weeks before they come back through there.”

Bradley is no stranger to hogs. His family ran a hog farm and slaughter house in Jackson County for 100 years, going back four generations. He is the first to agree feral swine are destructive.

“When they tear it up, they tear it up big time. They come through like a carpet roller,” Bradley said.

Bradley believes the N.C. Wildlife Commission is giving in to political pressure from the growing number of upscale subdivisions in the mountains pushing into the forest habitats, and then complaining about the animals in their yards.

“You got a lot of influx of people and they want to change the rules to suit their lifestyle,” Bradley said.

Wildlife Commission reaffirms support for hunting with dogs

The Commissioners of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission unanimously adopted a resolution recently reaffirming the agency’s longstanding support for hunting with the use of dogs.

“We support the use of dogs in hunting in North Carolina where such hunting is consistent with the sound conservation of our state’s treasured wildlife resources and not contrary to the protection of the private property rights of its citizens,” said Gordon Myers, executive director of the commission. “Hunting with dogs is part of a centuries old tradition in North Carolina and the members of the Wildlife Resources Commission determined that it was important to clarify their position regarding those practices.”

The partnership of hunters and hunting dogs, commissioners affirmed, has long been a central thread of North Carolina hunting culture, and thousands of hunters – young and old – use dogs to pursue grouse and quail, waterfowl and woodcock, deer and bear, rabbits and squirrels, and foxes and bobcats, and raccoons and opossums.

“The members of the Wildlife Resources Commission looks forward to continuing its successful record of working with multiple partners to provide opportunities for hunters to use dogs on state and private lands where feasible and appropriate,” said Commission Chairman Steve Windham.

For more information on hunting in North Carolina or for a copy of the resolution, visit www.ncwildlife.org.

Take precautions while out hunting

During the holiday season, when family and friends gather, many go on traditional hunting trips.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is reminding hunters to take proper precautions when hunting during the holidays.

The Wildlife Commission’s “Home From The Hunt” campaign encourages everyone to be prepared, take the proper precautions and enjoy their time outdoors this season.

“The holidays are a wonderful time for hunting,” said Travis Casper, the state’s assistant hunting safety coordinator with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “In the excitement of a holiday hunt, don’t overlook the safety aspects. Communicate with fellow hunters and stress the importance of everyone being careful.”

Casper advises:

• Go back to basics — review hunter education training and equipment instructions.

• Read the rules — know all applicable regulations before going afield.

• Identify the target — remain cautious and be absolutely sure before firing.

• Inspect all equipment — repair or replace equipment, as needed, before use.

Successful completion of hunter education is required for all first time hunting license buyers in North Carolina. Courses are offered free by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, with schedules and registration available at www.ncwildlife.org.

Proposal on tethering animals has some worried about future regulations

Hunters showed up en masse at a Haywood commissioners meeting to express their concerns about proposed changes to the ordinances stipulating how their dogs had to be tethered.

While the revised ordinances do not include a prohibition on chaining or tethering — a point of some confusion among some in attendance — some hunters said they feared these changes would pave the way to make tethering illegal.

The ordinance does put regulations on tethering, requiring dog owners to use swivel connectors and chains “of suitable length,” which Animal Control Director Jean Hazzard described as at least 6 feet for a 45-pound dog. The proposal would also require owners to keep the area surrounding the dog free of obstacles so it can have easy access to food, water and shelter. The ordinance would also ban the use of chain and choke collars for tethering to prevent strangulation.

“I think the whole issue is that most of the hunters think that one thing is going to lead to another,” said Gary Birchfield, who spoke on behalf of the hunters.

Jeff Smith, who provided information input on the draft ordinance as a spokesperson for the Bear Hunters and Raccoon Hunters Clubs, voiced similar concerns.

“The way it reads right now, there’s nothing that’s going to affect the hunters, I assure you,” Smith said.

But he warned against forbidding chaining and tethering altogether.

“You do away with that, you’re going to have dogs running everywhere because people can’t afford to have a kennel,” he said.

Others, however, spoke in favor of the proposed changes, even advocating that they be added to in the future.

Penny Wallace, executive director of the Haywood Animal Welfare Association, urged commissioners not only to adopt the ordinances but to do more in defense of animals in Haywood County.

“I ask you to vote for the recommendations and make them effective immediately,” Wallace said, adding that this is only the tip of the iceberg on animal welfare in the county.

“Haywood County is still woefully behind the national standards for animal welfare. We are even behind the standards of our neighbor, Buncombe County,” she said.

Linda Sexton also spoke for increased animal protection laws, asking commissioners to consider eventually abolishing tethering, and introducing spay and neuter laws.

“It’s way past time if you look at how many animals are unfortunately put down in our shelters twice a week because people are not taking care of getting their dogs fixed,” said Sexton.

Some audience members were also concerned about provisions requiring owners of “vicious or dangerous animals” to keep them indoors, muzzled when outside, and away from children. Hazzard described “vicious and dangerous” as an animal who had either demonstrated dangerous behavior towards animal control staff, or one who had actually bitten or attacked.

But resident Carol Underwood took issue with that, maintaining that just because a dog attacks, it should not automatically be tagged as vicious.

“If the owner is not present to stop you entering our property, they probably will attack you or bite you through their own fear, not because they’re bad dogs,” said Underwood. “We’re conflicted with animals that are vicious that we know are mean, and animals that we love that will be aggressive to defend us.”

Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the revised ordinance at their next regular meeting on Nov. 1.

No more daily bag limits for deer hunters this year

The Wildlife Commission has unveiled its proposed changes to hunting and fishing rules, but the list is a super short one this year and controversial proposals are markedly absent.

A public hearing on the proposed changes will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 15, at Haywood Community College.

The list is a benign one compared to the past three years, which were all packed controversy.

A firestorm erupted last year over one of the proposed changes that would have weakened protection for the Smokies elk herd. While it is illegal to hunt elk, the change would have given landowners wider discretion to shoot an elk if it was causing private property damage.

The Wildlife Commission backed off and dropped the proposal following public outcry, however.

The previous year, public outcry temporarily sidelined a proposal to lift the daily bag limit for deer. While there is a still a cap on the number of deer a hunter can shoot over the course of hunting season, there is no longer a daily cap.

Hunters in the mountains protested, fearing the slacker rule would hurt the deer population.

The Wildlife Commission tabled the proposed change for a year, but has now enacted it anyway. This hunting season will be the first year it goes into effect.

The Wildlife Commission also caught flack over a proposal to allow falconry on Sundays and bow hunting on private land on Sundays. Hunting is otherwise illegal on Sundays. Critics feared the changes would open the door for full-blown Sunday hunting down the road.

The year before, a proposal to allow bear hunting with dogs in the popular Dupont State Forest recreation area in Henderson County was derailed by public outcry.

This year, there are no hunting rule changes that affect the mountains. There are only two fishing changes: one is to remove the “Public Mountain Trout Waters” designation on Ellijay Creek in Macon County, and the other is to clarify boundaries of the delayed harvest waters on the Tuck in Jackson County as between the N.C. 107 bridge and U.S. 441 bridge.

To comment, go to www.ncwildlife.org and click on “submit comments” on the right hand side.

— By Becky Johnson

Elk could be booted from state species of special concern list

Elk could lose their status as a species of special concern under a new rule change proposed by the N.C. Wildlife Commission.

A public hearing on proposed changes to state hunting and fishing rules will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13, at Southwestern Community College in Sylva. Organizations that provided financial support for the reintroduction of the elk are prepared to speak out against the proposed rule change.

It is illegal to shoot an elk — both inside the national park boundaries and outside the park. Despite a delisting as a species of special concern, elk would retain their status as a “non-game” animal, making hunting them illegal even if they wander outside protected national park lands.

Tom Massie of Jackson County said the proposal is causing a great deal of confusion, however, and questioned the rationale behind it.

“There have been a lot of people who have spent a lot of time and effort and money to get the elk herd reestablished,” Massie said. “It is a huge economic draw for this region of the state. Why even do it right now?”

Massie said he would like to see the state do a management plan for the species to compliment the national park’s management plan. Elk are frequently wandering out of the park and are beginning to establish satellite herds.

The Wildlife Commission cites the success of the elk restoration project and growth of the herd, which makes the listing no longer necessary.

“This is primarily an administrative change,” said Brad Howard, private lands program coordinator for the Wildlife Commission. “There is no documented evidence we need to have a special concern status on the elk species right now.”

Howard said the move will mirror the national park’s change in status expected later this year, which will shift from “experimental release” to an official “reintroduction.”

“The park has said ‘OK it worked. Let’s see if this population will sustain itself in Western North Carolina,’” Howard said.

 

Hunting, fishing regs undergo annual review

Every year, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission suggests adjustments to their regulations to accommodate hunters and fishermen while protecting natural resources.

Public input can be made at one of nine hearings held statewide, including one at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13, at Southwestern Community College in Sylva, or in writing.

Go to www.ncwildlife.org and click on submit comments online. Scroll down to see the list of proposed changes and click to comment. The deadline to comment is Jan. 22.

After collecting and considering all public comments, the Wildlife Commission will meet in March to decide whether or not to adopt the proposals.

 

Hunting

• Elk — Proposal would remove elk from the list of species of Special Concern. The only elk in the state are found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park after being reintroduced to the park. Hunting elk would still be illegal within the park.

• Bobcat and otter — Trappers would no longer have to get tags for bobcat and otters they intend to sell. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is no longer requiring tags for bobcats and otter being sold for commercial purposes, so the state wildlife commission aims to follow suit.

• Armadillo — While armadillo aren’t native to North Carolina, they are beginning to crop up and are being considered a nuisance by the wildlife commission. There is no game law that applies to armadillos, and this proposal aims to set up a year-round open season on armadillos with no bag limits.

 

Fishing proposals

• Franks Creek in Graham County — Proposal would end stocking and ban use of live bait under a new designation as Wild Trout/Natural Bait waters.

• Tellico River in Cherokee County — Proposal would ban use of natural bait and allow artificial lures only under new designation of Wild Trout waters.

• Nantahala River and tributaries in Macon and Clay counties upstream of Nantahala Lake — Proposal would end the exemption that allows fishing during closed season on hatchery supported waters.

• West Fork Pigeon River in Haywood County — Proposal would end stocking on the upper 3.7 miles of currently Hatchery-Supported waters and re-designate as Wild Trout Waters, which would ban live or natural bait, lower the daily limit from 7 to 4, and impose a minimum catch size of 7 inches. The change will better protect the wild brown trout population. The lower 1.7 miles will remain Hatchery-Supported Trout Waters.

• French Broad River — Proposal would decrease the size limit on muskies from 46 inches to 42 inches. Regulation dovetails with statewide rule change to set minimum size limit on muskies at 42 inches and one fish daily catch limit.

The move will conserve spawning stock by protecting 4- to 5-year-old sexually mature fish.

State forest users protests proposed bear hunt

A handful of lucky hunting parties were about to embark on a special bear hunt in DuPont State Forest last fall when wildlife managers realized they had gotten themselves in a bit of snare.

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